Skip to comments.MILITARY UPDATE: AAFES Chief: Let 22 million vets shop exchanges online
Posted on 06/07/2014 3:04:20 PM PDT by SandRat
Defense officials are weighing a proposal from the director of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to allow the nations 22 million honorably discharged veterans, and perhaps an equal number of their family members, to shop online for military exchange products and discounts.
Shoppers who use the AAFES website enjoy savings of up to 25 percent on many brand name products. They also avoid state and local sale taxes on their purchases just like on-base shoppers do.
By providing online discounts to millions of deserving veterans and families, said Thomas C. Shull, chief executive officer of AAFES, the exchange services would see overall profits soar while protecting the benefit in tough budget times and ensuring that quality-of-life programs for military families continue to be funded by exchange profits or dividends.
Shull pitched his idea in a May 8 memorandum to the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, with review and comment also sought from top manpower officials in the Army, Navy and Air Force. A spokeswoman for Acting Under Secretary Jessica L. Garfola Wright said the proposal is undergoing staffing and no decisions have been made.
Allowing veterans access to online exchange shopping, Shull assured officials in his memo, will not adversely affect the benefit to currently serving and retiree personnel in any way. Indeed, he added, it will enhance the benefit by increasing profits and, therefore, increasing dividends to support the services Morale, Welfare and Recreation funding accounts.
Preserving the shopping benefit is in the best interest of the entire military community, Shull added. Then he summarized why its in jeopardy, citing announced and planned troop drawdowns, large cuts to the DOD budget for Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities, and fewer personnel and families living on the installation, all of which are leading to a greatly reduced customer base and decreased earnings/dividends.
In a phone interview Tuesday from AAFES headquarters in Dallas, Shull, a West Point graduate and retired reserve major, said his online proposal is a win-win-win idea. It would help veterans, help exchanges and help to protect force readiness and resiliency by ensuring that exchange profits can sustain on-base quality of life programs.
AAFES is the largest of three exchange services. Defense officials might reject Shulls plan unless all three support it. Marine Corps Exchange officials are said to be in favor, though this could not be confirmed by deadline by phone call or emails to a Marine Corps Exchange spokesman.
Kathleen Martin, spokeswoman for the Navy Exchange Service Command, said with the proposal under review it would be premature for us to comment at this time. We will certainly evaluate and respond to any proposals or initiatives presented to us by the (Department of Navy or Department of Defense) leadership.
Navy officials, a source said, have raised concerns about the added cost of verifying veterans status for millions of potential shoppers, and whether allowing online shopping would lead, over time, to pressure that millions of veterans deserve full access to on-base stores.
A total of 12 million active duty and reserve component members, retirees, dependents and survivors are now eligible to shop at military exchanges. Shull envisions that pool expanded for online shopping to 44 million including honorably discharged veterans and dependents. He projects online sales would climb from $200 million a year to $1 billion.
Unlimited exchange privileges are available now only to veterans who are military retirees or 100-percent disabled or hospitalized on base. To expand shopper eligibility requires only a change in defense policy, not law.
Whether Shulls plan is approved or not, AAFES will broaden its selection of goods sold online by years end from 20 percent of items now stocked in larger exchange stores to 50 percent. AAFES also is conducting a major overhaul of its online shopping experience by partnering with outside retail experts to speed ordering and shipping, and to expand call centers. Online shoppers will see vast improvements by Labor Day, Shull said.
He first thought of giving more veterans access to online shopping a year ago, Shull said, in considering the extraordinary pace of operations from recent wars with many members deploying four or five times to Iraq and Afghanistan. This left service members at greater risk but also their families, given high divorce rates and other consequences, Shull said.
The notion that vets from any era would deserve and appreciate online discount shopping dovetailed nicely with other AAFES goals: to preserve the benefit amid tighter budgets and a force drawdown, and to sustain profits to fund MWR programs.
Last March Shull had authored another controversial memo, this one in reaction to administration plans to slash funding for commissaries, from $1.4 billion annually down to $400 million, by fiscal 2017, and allow grocery discounts to fall from 30 percent, on average, down to 10. Shull warned that an exodus of patrons would render the commissary system unsustainable, forcing many stores to close with devastating consequences to exchanges.
To better handle such cuts and preserve discount shopping, Shull proposed merging commissary operations with exchanges, and relying on resulting efficiencies to stabilize grocery prices and ultimately keep patrons.
The administrations plan to cut commissary support has gained no traction in Congress this year. Shull remains concerned that commissary discounts will erode over time, which would leave exchanges vulnerable too.
To date, online shopping has been a break-even feature for AAFES, having no impact on profits. But if honorably discharged veterans are allowed to shop online, Shull predicts a 10-fold increase in online sales and profits of $160 million annually, a pop of 50 percent in total AAFES profits.
Representatives of major military associations who serve on the Exchange Retiree Advisory Council unanimously support the plan. Shull said he hopes to have a decision from the Defense officials within a few months. It would take of year of preparation to execute the plan. Shull would like to have online shopping open to millions more veterans by Veterans Day 2015.
Oh here it comes... put them all on Obamacare... then ObamaCare will be hailed as a great success
Not a bad idea...
Vets or retirees? I’m a vet but since I didn’t retire I can’t shop the exchanges far as I know.
I would have thought they already could do this. Military wives like to shop too, just like other wives. This has been possible since AOL and My Space days of before!
Whoa ... Finally got thru it all... This would be huge... Not sure the states would like the loss of tax revenue but wow... It’s for all honorably discharged vets if it goes thru
Active duty military, retirees,and their families are currently eligible for exchange privileges. Expanding this eligibility via online purchases for veterans and their families is not going to be well received by local merchants and major retailers who stand to lose millions. It will likely spawn a debate about automatic collection of sales taxes for all online purchases.
I don’t think that the Congress will go for it.
AAFES is currently only accessible to active duty, retirees and their dependents, and reservists. Vets who served but left the service is the subject of this proposal.
bring back the case lot sales at the commissaries that Obama got rid of...
I too am a vet and No,
You can not use the px
You really think this pos would do Anything to help vets???????
I’ll vote for anything that avoids sales tax. The up to 25% discount is just gravy.
Except government always sucks at business. It would be better to let someone like Amazon handle this and shut down the government operation.
Seems to me this is a good way to support the military. The AAFES system has worked well for a long time. The military, and the military way of life is constantly under attack by both the left and many on the right and if this helps to keep the AAFES system world wide solvent then I’m all for it. Amazon etc., are still available for those that choose...
I’m for it on one condition. Only sell Made in USA products!
If they are interested in increasing their customer base, they should let DOD civilians shop at these exchanges. Nowadays, many posts have more DOD civilians than active duty troops on them during the day.
VA employees can shop AAFES as well the Canteen at the VA hospital sells stuff through AFFES.
When you shop at the VA Canteen it is tax free.
From what I’ve seen, Amazon is already cheaper than AAFES. The last time I did a comparison of some items I was interested in, Amazon ran 10-40% less, including shipping.
If you are 100% vet like me you can. But honestly its not worth it anyways. The commissary may save some but the selection sucks, and the PX must be hiding that 25% savings because I dont see it when I go.
Looks good. I’d support it by buying something online every now and then.
For civilians who assume that AAFES item prices are all that low, they weren’t, when I was in the Guard. They were, all in all, just okay for the merchandise offered. Most civilians would see the prices as being a little high. And no, AAFES doesn’t sell tacticool stuff like camo nets as far as I can remember. It’s mostly civilian type personal and family items.
That’s not the PX, but thanks.
Congress doesn’t need to. It’s a matter of policy, not law. That was explained in the article.
Over the years, the issue of tax free goods on military installations at the PX, commissary, Class VI store, etc. has been an issue of great interest to Congress. They have frequently threatened to end the tax free status as these were perceived to be unfair to local merchants. Local merchants vote for local politicians, soldiers don’t.
The government has repeatedly made concessions to keep the tax free privilege. These concessions have been things like keeping prices within a certain range of off post establishments, limiting store hours, etc.
I have been around military installations for 67 years and I have seen it over and over again. How much money has Bezos donated to Obama and the Democrats?
Who will pay the postage? that can be pretty hefty now days...
You have a point. At this time, it’s still an agency decision.
The Canteen will let you order from AFEES on-line. The Canteen amused to have their own online ordering, but several years ago it was combined with AFFES.
On your next trip to the VA check it out.
Shipping can kill you if you live outside the lower 48 like Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, etc. You buy online and all of a sudden that “free ground shipping” morphs into $40-$50 shipping for a $10 item.
Nowadays, with NewEgg, Amazon, and others easily and quickly available it is simply no contest, and pretty much all the purchases I have made have been with free shipping included. Also, perhaps because I am in California, Newegg has almost consistently managed to complete shipping in two days -and on at least one occasion by the next day, WITH standard (free) shipping.
On the contrary. I believe their goal is to get all these vets to sign up for the AAFES credit card. They charge an average of at least 15% and most are too undisciplined to stop using it.
Vets are big boys and girls don’t think you need to be worry about their credit card habits but thanks for your concern I’m sure its heartfelt....
Active Duty/Retiree/Veteran ping.
The PX, with the exception of Class VI (alcohol), is massively overpriced. (Yes, you can find some deals...but they are the exception rather than the rule). As an (retired) enlisted person, I have consistently believed that the buyers for AAFES must certainly gain valuable feedback from their consumer base (the spouses and daughters of O-6s and above)
Possibly furniture and appliances may have good pricing, but I would have to go a long way out of my way to check...therefore it isn’t worth the bother.
My bet would be that allowing aafes access will get a lot of states and large retailers upset. That’s where the fight will be. My memory says that aafes is state/local sales tax free, so states will lodge an objection. Large retailers will object to increased competition at lower prices sponsored by the government.
It would be a good award for honorable service to carry forward for all retirees. The VA coverage is not working so well right now, so any addition would help.
I am a retiree and use the Exchange Online store a lot. For some things it’s a good bargain, especially on taxes. So this proposal would ADD veterans to those eligible, who are (right now) active duty and retired, plus family members.
I shop online at the Exchange, but I’m a retiree’s widow so I still have all the privileges. “all the privileges” HA!!! They’ve taken them almost all away.
I rarely set foot in the PX.
Electronics are out of date. Staff is hard to find and when you do find someone they don’t know what is going on.
I don’t shop at the commissary either.
The zero sales tax is the only advantage the PX has, so big ticket or big shopping is better than regular shopping.
I’ve always like the commissary, and thought they did well with meat and brand name shelf items. Their fruits and veggies spoiled too quickly. Unfortunately, for me, I retired about 2 hours from the closest PX/Commissary, so I mostly do big box retailers.
We use the commissary all the time and it does have considerable savings over the grocery stores in town. The exchange though? I am very curious to see where they are pulling this 25% savings number from because that has never been my experience. Their brands maybe, but not overall.
Yep, I pretty much quit shopping at the commissary and BX. I got a Mac Book Pro for less, even with the tax, at Best Buy, where the selection is better, and the floor staff actually have some idea what they are talking about.